Revew: Mind In The Making, (Harper-Collins, NY: 2014) by Ellen Galinsky.

Review: Mind In The Making, (Harper-Collins, NY: 2014) by Ellen Galinsky.

Early childhood educators have worked for generations to compile a summary of the skills needed by children to become capable of continuing their own learning. They have also tried to identify and define those skills through research and study of child behavior. In this book for parents, Ellen Galinsky has done a years-long review of this essential parenting process. The result is a comprehensive and coherent book that should be read by every parent. Its concepts should also be the basis of a required course in every teacher training curriculum.

It is designed primarily for parents, but educators should be equally knowledgeable about the “Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” In fact, the process of “making the mind” of a child is helping the child “learn how to learn.”

Much of what Galinsky reports is not what schools must do, but what parents already do. The fact that many children lack competency in the seven skills attests to a basic problem for America’s schools and those who are responsible for continuing a child’s education. Galinsky’s seven life skills describe them, and, clearly, they comprise a complete overview of what is needed to become an independent learner.

The cover lists each skill and a brief summary describing its purpose: The first, “focus and self-control,” actually involves two related aspects. They are the ability to “pay attention” and sufficient awareness to be able to exercise control of awareness and distractions.
The second, “perspective taking,” is described as “figuring out what others think and feel.” and is the basis for understanding the intent of parents, teachers and others. Empathy may be a major aspect of this, but perspective implies more.

Skill three is “communication.” More than just language, this involves an understanding of the need for and usefulness of precision in language—speaking, writing, listening, reading—its effects on one’s self and others. Galinsky believes that teachers and employers feel this is most lacking in our youth today.

“Making connections is at the heart of learning,” is the fourth skill. Of course, a synonym, association, describes the basis of all comprehension—the relationships of, differences and similarities of, occurrences of in time and space and their comparison, measurement and (personal and inherent) relevance.

“Critical thinking,” the fifth skill, is described as “the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge, to guide belief, decisions and actions.” Skills four and five are, in combination, at least partly the “evaluation” of what is learned via skill two.

“Taking on challenges,” skill six, implies developing self-confidence, and accepting responsibility for one’s self. The importance of awareness of stress, its causes and effects is emphasized. Carol Dweck’s conclusions in her studies of children’s awareness of abilities are stressed here. She found that merely telling children that they were ‘smart’ was destructive because it caused them to think in terms of comparison with others. The constructive approach was to praise effort, good work and performance and persistence for specific activities without the generalizations “bright,” “smart,” etc.

Finally skill seven “self-directed, engaged learning” is the culminating of competence in the other six in a child’s ability to continue, and want to continue their own learning independently, and for both personal and social purposes.

It has been said that the first 100 months of a child’s life determines his or her future performance. There is strong evidence that parents can effectively use the research-supported principles and suggestions for their own children, and teachers can adapt them as well.

A most important aspect of this book is that parents need to understand that those first eight years of a child’s development, if let slip away, can never be fully remedied. The growth and development of a child’s brain slow down as they grow older. **“Natural” memory for what their senses bring to a child’s brain and mind become less vivid as they become familiar and the child pays less attention to them. Parents need to “think otherwise” when someone suggests that “remedial teaching will let a child fully catch up on what they missed in the early grades of school.” That is NOT true.

**(A note on a related topic.) Our “artificial” memory–pictures, symbols, numbers words, signs–that represent something that we have in our minds became necessary when societies developed and needed to “store” information to be able to share it with others. Before the invention of writing, people used their memories and spoken language to communicate. Many books have been written that describe how this began about 12,000 years ago. Significantly, the first “writing” we have found from that time was used to record what merchants counted and measured—the sale of grain, animals, and other products. But that is another story from books I will review later. I have, though, written a bit about “the art of memory” in another article in this Blog.


John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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